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Legal loophole on using mobile phone while driving to be closed

PUBLISHED: 00:01 17 October 2020 | UPDATED: 15:41 17 October 2020

A legal loophole which can allow drivers to escape punishment while using a mobile phone behind the wheel will be closed under new government plans Picture: GETTY IMAGES/iSTOCK PHOTO

A legal loophole which can allow drivers to escape punishment while using a mobile phone behind the wheel will be closed under new government plans Picture: GETTY IMAGES/iSTOCK PHOTO

Getty images

A legal loophole which can allow drivers to escape punishment for taking photos or playing games on a hand-held mobile phone will be closed under new government plans.

Sgt Barry Abbott, of Suffolk police Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARYSgt Barry Abbott, of Suffolk police Picture: SUFFOLK CONSTABULARY

Using a hand-held mobile to call or text while driving is already banned but a legal loophole saw some motorists who took photos on their device escape punishment as their actions were not seen as “interactive communication”.

Although you can still be prosecuted for driving without due care and attention, the Department for Transport is consulting to bring the law into line with modern technology – meaning taking photos, playing games or scrolling through a playlist behind the wheel will also be banned.

Under the new government proposals, unveiled today, an exemption will apply to contactless mobile phone payments if a vehicle is stationary, and if goods or services – such as a takeaway meal at drive-thrus - are delivered immediately.

Ministers rejected calls to go further by banning the use of hands-free functions, and drivers will still be able to continue using devices “hands-free” while driving, such as a sat-nav secured in a cradle.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk's police and crime commissioner, welcomed the consultation Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNTim Passmore, Suffolk's police and crime commissioner, welcomed the consultation Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

Suffolk police caught seven motorists ‘rubbernecking’ by filming a crash scene on the A14 in August but they were dealt with under different legislation for driving without due care and attention.

The government says police powers will be bolstered under the new plans by ensuring officers can take immediate action if they see a driver holding and using their phone at the wheel.

MORE: Warning over ‘rubbernecking’ after drivers caught filming A14 crash scene

Sgt Barry Abbott, of the serious collision investigation unit (SCIU) at Suffolk police, said: “The legislation is behind the technology and there are so many more ways to use a phone now than just two-way communication.

“Ultimately, we want people to be safe behind the wheel and welcome anything that can enhance and improve road safety.”

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The change in law would apply across Britain and is expected to come into effect early next year, pending the outcome of the consultation.

The penalties in place for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving are six penalty points and a £200 fine.

Tim Passmore, Suffolk police and crime commissioner, welcomed the consultation.

“Mobile phones have changed considerably since this original law was introduced, so I feel it is really important to carry out this review to ensure the law reflects the potential dangers of drivers using a mobile phone for whatever reason. Any loop-holes have to be identified and closed down as a matter of urgency,” he said.

“I find it absolutely staggering that drivers would consider using their phone whilst behind the wheel, let alone to take photos, engage in social media or check their bank statement.

“Anything that can be done to strengthen the law to avoid this irresponsible and dangerous behaviour has my full support.”

Baroness Vere, roads minister, said: “Our roads are some of the safest in the world, but we want to make sure they’re safer still by bringing the law into the 21st-century.

“That’s why we’re looking to strengthen the law to make using a hand-held phone while driving illegal in a wider range of circumstances– it’s distracting and dangerous and for too long risky drivers have been able to escape punishment, but this update will mean those doing the wrong thing will face the full force of the law.”


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